To avoid root fallacies when interpreting the meaning of biblical words, use the help of reliable lexicons along with knowing how the same writer uses the particular word elsewhere. Then strive to understand the word in its immediate context. Your understanding of the Bible will be noticeably and fruitfully enhanced.
The very first fallacy theologian D. A. Carson lists in his classic book Exegetical Fallacies is “the root fallacy.” What is the root fallacy and why is it of such importance to merit being first of many potential errors we risk committing while interpreting what the Bible says and means?
The etymology of a word is its history of development over time.
In short, Dr. Carson defines the root fallacy as determining the meaning of a word in the Bible by its etymology or component parts. The etymology of a word is like its genealogy—its history of development over time. For example, consider how English words have changed over the years.
“Awful” used to mean full of awe and worthy of respect or honor. However, awful now tends to mean terrible or bad. In fact, “terrible” once had a meaning similar to “awe” and “wonder”; but the negative side of the word has won out, and today it means something extremely bad. Word meanings change over time as cultural usage redefines them.
This brings us to the root fallacy of biblical interpretation—exegetical root fallacy.
How does someone commit the error of the exegetical root fallacy?
When people try to define the meaning of a biblical word by appealing to its etymology (its history of how a word’s meaning changes over time) or to its component parts, they are committing the error of exegetical root fallacy. They are trying to say a word now means such and such because its meaning used to be such and such or because its parts mean such and such.